35 Reasons to love Amsterdam

Welcome to Amsterdam, one of the main cultural and historic centres of the World. The 'heroic', "steadfast', merciful' city with the three crosses, was founded in the 12th century. Nowadays rather the 'hospitable', 'social', 'merry' city.

1. City

A fascinating city with a unique lay-out, with concentric semi-circular rings of canals, the 'grachtengordel', with roads and bridges running radially, built on millions of poles (wood, now concrete) drilled through a muddy peat layer down to the underlying sand. The mediaeval lay-out still largely exists and so do the cultural highlights. The city has over 7000 registered state monuments and over 50 museums.

2. Dam square

The Dam is the very centre and heart of Amsterdam since the 13th century. It harbours the Royal Palace, the 'New Church' and the National World War II Monument. Also a favourite place to stroll and be photo-graphed.

3. Royal Palace

The 'Paleis op de Dam' dominates the square. Originally built - on 13659 poles - as the town hall, to glorify the city of Amsterdam. The then largest building in the world, opened in 1655, became a symbol of power and wealth of the nation in its Golden Age. Since 1815 it is a royal palace where royal receptions and 'balcony scenes' take place. After a major renovation the palace, including the Citizens' Hall, is now open to the public.

4. New Church

The 'Nieuwe Kerk' is the best known church of the country. Here three Dutch queens and recently king Alexander were inaugurated. Recently part of the church has been set apart as a museum for exceptional exhibitions.

5. National Monument

This 'monument op de Dam' was erected in 1956 for the national Remembrance of the Dead, 'Dodenherdenking'. A ceremony is held at the monument every year on 4 May to commemorate the casualties of World War II and subsequent armed conflicts. From the beginning it has been accepted that people, particularly youngsters sit on the steps and absorb the peaceful atmosphere.

6. Amsterdam Museum

The historic museum of Amsterdam has an enormous collection of objects on the history of the city. It includes the former citizens orphanage, 'burgerweeshuis' which is also the entrance to the museum. It is an easy walk for about 400 m from Dam square southward to this tranquil oasis. The orphanage started in 1520, surprisingly early.

7. Red Light District

The area is a striking mix of sextourism and architectural beauty. If you are not interested in the red lights and implications, you can, starting behind the Monument on the Dam, walk eastward and northward in the oldest part of the city, with stately canals and several majestic houses. In one the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences resides. Don't forget the 'Old Church', Oude Kerk, from the mid 13th century.

8. Amsterdam's canals

Speaking of the canals, these 'grachten', constructed in these unique concentric rings in the early 17th century, measure about 100 km. They are bordered by 1550 monumental buildings. Most of this staggering area is placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Thanks to about 1500 bridges the area is well accessible, but a little long for walking. Instead you should make a circular trip by boat, typical low boats (because of the bridges!), most of them harbouring 700 m north of the Dam and near the Central Station.

9. Skinny Bridge

Of all these bridges, the narrow 'Magere Brug', is the most famous. It is a traditional double-leaf, Dutch draw-bridge over the river Amstel. This is an enlarged version of the bridge from 1670. Some boat trips go as far as this bridge.

10. Hermitage

Hermitage Amsterdam is a new top museum as a branch of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, which arranges expositions with objects from the mother collections. Bordering the river Amstel it is not far from the Skinny bridge. The museum is located in the Amstelhof, a former hospital from 1681.

11. Rembrandtplein square

From the Hermitage to the city centre one may pass the Rembrandtplein (with a statue of the painter). It is a popular centre for nightlife, while it also includes traditional Dutch pubs which play real Dutch music. In summer, the terraces are packed with people taking a Dutch beer.

12. Flower market

Further downtown at the Singel canal a flower market is found since 1862. It has become the best-known flower market which is amazing because part of the market is floating. The flowers are shown in covered stalls on boats. The market is open 7 days per week. In the background we see the Munttoren, 'Mint tower' from 1620. Also note the many bicycles!

13. Beguines' Court

The 'Begijnhof' is a courtyard from the 14th century, with houses once all inhabited by Béguine nuns. In the Middle Ages it was entirely surrounded by canals and ditches. It was a sort of open convent. Nuns have lived here until 1971, when the last remaining nun died. The most spectacular house is the oldest house but one in the city, from ca. 1528, and one of the very few mediaeval wooden houses. As in the nearby Amsterdam Museum the atmosphere is peaceful.

14. Western Church

The Westerkerk is the largest and most impressive of the four protestant churches built in the early 17th century. It is situated about 1 km west of the Dam. Its tower of 85 m can be seen from almost any roof in the city. Several famous songs have been dedicated to the church.

15. The Anne Frank House

Anne Frank, lived with her Jewish family in part of a house at the Prinsengracht, hidden for the German occupants during World War II. They lived at the back part of the house, the 'achterhuis'. Anne wrote a diary here. However, in August 1944 the family members were deported to various concentration camps. Anne was moved to Bergen-Belsen where she died in March 1945. In 1947 Anne's diary was published with the title 'Het Achterhuis", which became a world-wide best-seller. The house became a museum, and for many millions a visit was like a pilgrimage. 

16. Jordaan

A famous city quarter bordering the Prinsengracht, known throughout the country. Its unusual name, the Jordaan, has an uncertain origin. It was developed early 17th century to house many poor people working for the rich. After centuries of misery the Jordaan has become a vivid neighbourhood with its narrow streets and canals, 'brown cafés', local pubs with a dark interior enjoyed by habitués. There are many art galleries and special shops here.

17. Leidse Plein square

In the same belt as the Jordaan, but a km southeastward this square, with the surrounding streets is a centre for nightlife, but also a place to sit on a terrace and look around, Nearby is the 'Stadsschouw-burg', the Municipal Theatre and the American Hotel, both from the 1890s.

18. Vondelpark

Just 100 m to the South the city's most famous and popular park is situated. It dates from 1864 and was developed in the English landscape style. It is named after the great 17th century poet and play write Joost van den Vondel. It is used by promenaders, runners, cyclists, bird watchers and families sitting on the grass.

19. Museumplein square

This huge open area, part of a new urban belt, is again a national asset. Equally huge open air manifestations take place here, including concerts at special occasions, notably Queens' Day, now King's Day. It is also the place for major demonstrations, against wars, social injustice, discrimination, etc. On all other days the square is more emphatically one of the world's top localities of culture with no less than four internationally outstanding institutions.

20. Rijksmuseum

The State Museum was founded in 1800 and got its present impressive building in 1885. It was closed for renovation from 2003 to 2013. The result has been praised exuberantly around the world. The interior is very effective and appealing and the many famous paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen and so many others as well as the presentation of the Dutch social and cultural history is also magnificent. The total collection includes 1 million objects.

21. Van Gogh Museum

Another museum with a world reputation and many visitors (ca. 1,5 million/year) is this museum from 1973, dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries. It harbours 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters of van Gogh. Also this museum went through a major renovation. The photo of the Museumplein (left middle) shows the enire museum with the white extension.

22. Stedelijk Museum

The municipal Museum is the third museum at the square which was renovated and reopened in 2013. The extension was immediately baptized as bath tub, with the typical humour of the Amsterdam people. The museum, founded in 1874, has focussed mainly on contemporary art. It owns 90.000 objects.

23. Concertgebouw

The imposing building was opened in 1888 and rapidly became a famous concert hall, because the Amsterdam symphony orchestra, which adopted the name of the building, developed into an internationally famous orchestra. Nowadays it is considered one of the three or four top orchestras, and so is the building. Musicians and conductors know how to pronounce 'Concertghebuh'.

24. Albert Cuyp market

Changing atmosphere completely we move just a few hundred meters to the East to find the busiest street market of the country and with over 250 stands probably the largest in Europe. It was established by the city government in 1905 and became a day market in 2012. It provides the many customers with flowers, vegetables, fruit but also clothing, shoes, ironware, juwelry, etc. The atmosphere is full of typical Amsterdam humour.

25. Museum of the Tropics

Back to culture again. We continue northeastward, cross the river Amstel and find the Tropenmuseum. This is an anthropological museum with an emphasis on the Tropics. It was established in 1864 and is now one of the largest museums in Amsterdam, with 175.000 objects, 155.000 photographs and 10.000 miscellaneous drawings, paintings and documents.

26. Artis, the Royal Amsterdam Zoo

On our way back to the inner city we move through the Plantage quarter, part of late 17th century city extension, but not built-up until the 19th century, and a green leisure for about 200 years. Here Artis was founded in 1838 as the first zoo in the country. The collection has grown to about 900 species of animals and also 200 tree species. Artis has a beautiful and valuable library on the history of zoology and botany.

27. Botanic Garden

The Hortus Botanicus, founded in 1638 in the Plantage quarter, was a 'Hortus medicus" from the beginning but after it became part of the University it developed into a fully equipped garden with greenhouses. On only 1 ha ca. 6000 species are kept, including the famous Victoria regia. Since 1990 a separate foundation is in charge of the maintenance.

28. Rembrandt House

In his early years as a painter Rembrandt was popular and sold enough to be able to purchase this house from 1606, now known as Rembrandthuis. He lived and worked there for 17 years until poverty urged him to move to a modest house in the Jordaan (nr. 16). The Rembrandt house was recently renovated and arranged as in Rembrandt's time. Here work of Rembrandt, particularly etches, are shown. In the large extension the entrance is found as well as space for special exhibitions.

29. University of Amsterdam

Founded in 1632 this is now the biggest university in the country. It has a long history of education by famous professors, including six Nobel Price winners. The university still uses buildings from the 17th century, e.g. the former university main building. Nowadays there are two universities and many colleges. The Sweelinck Academy of music and the Rietveld academy of fine arts and design are the largest and best-known in the country with students from over 50 countries.

30. National Maritime Museum

The 'Scheepvaartmuseum', like other museums, was fully renovated. It is housed in a former naval storehouse from 1656. Outside the museum you will find a replica of the 'Amsterdam', a reinforced freighter destinated for East Indies trade. It was built in 1748 and went lost during its very first trip in a heavy storm on the bars of Hastings. The court-yard of the building got a spectacular roof and there is now ample space for the exhibition of the partly very valuable, objects (out of a total of 300.000). These include weapons, paintings and particularly nautical charts.

31. Festivals

Amsterdam is well-known for its festivals. These are arranged both indoors and outdoors. There are at least 70 outdoor festivals documented on Internet. The most prestigious is the Holland Festival, held in June and including about all arts, notably music, theatre and dance. The city is particularly important for jazz. A new place for cultural events is the 'Westergasfabriek', the former Western Gas Factory plant where several monumental buildings were renovated to house e.g. exhibitions, concerts, TV programs.

32. Shopping

For those who wish to combine visiting monuments with shopping - or just come for shopping, Amsterdam has of course plenty opportunities. Traditionally the Dam square and surroundings, with Magna Plaza, is popular. The Kalverstraat running from the Dam to the Muntplein with the Munttoren (nr. 12), is the main shopping street. Not far from the Amsterdam Museum the Nine Streets connecting the main canals excel in art galleries, jewellers and boutiques. The Leidse straat and Leidse Plein neighbourhood has gale-ries and boutiques. The P.C. Hooftstraat (the 'PC') with adjacent streets between the Leidse Plein and Museumplein is the most exclusive shopping centre.

33. Industry

Amsterdam has long been a major centre of industry. A few companies still have offices and factories here, but the main importance of Amsterdam is having the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre. On an area of over 10 ha 50 international meetings and 70 trade shows are held yearly. The Elicium, added in 2009, serves as Europe's largest conference centre.

34. Dutch food

Food in Amsterdam is very international. Along with Dutch food, Indonesian, Chinese and Surinam food are available. Dutch food is simple, hearty, soup with meat, potatoes and vegetables with meat or fish. Favourite food is raw herring, bought at the stall (here that of Stubbe) and often consumed there as well. A meal with bread and salad is also popular, usually with Dutch cheese, if possible from a special shop, like Kaas-huis Tromp. In case you need a restaurant, there are over 1000, representing the whole world. There are 8 restaurants with one or two Michelin stars, in case you need something special. Finally the city is becoming keen on slow food and several restaurants are available.

35. Street music

To finish this tour across Amsterdam the wealth of street music deserves to be praised. There are many musicians, solists and members of smaller or bigger ensembles. The city has regulations for this sort of entertainment. The most typical 'instrument' is the street organ, 'straatdraaiorgel' with an unmistakable somewhat melancholic sound. With this example we are back on Dam square, the centre of this fantastic city, where our tour started.